Czech 1960's New Wave Cinema: The Cremator and Ikarie XB-1

Cinematheque Centre Iloilo is one of my favorite places in the city. They often have different films from all over the world, usually showing for free or at affordable prices. Their latest movies are on the subject of "Magnificent Black and White: Czechoslovak New Wave Cinema of 1960's." Two movies caught my interest: The Cremator and Ikarie XB-1. It was free so I didn't want to miss it.

The Cremator summary from Google: "In Prague, Karl Kopfrkingl enjoys his work at the crematorium perhaps a bit too much, having gained a perverse idea of reincarnation from his haphazard studies of Tibet. After World War II breaks out, there is a sudden need to be as Aryan as possible, and Kopfrkingl's old friend Reinke points out that Kopfrkingl has some German heritage. But his wife is Jewish, which makes his children Jewish, which makes the now-Nazi Kopfrkingl's blood boil."

I wasn't impressed with this movie after my first watch, but the more I think about it the more I appreciate it in a way that it gets scarier. Kopfrkingl works as a cremator, and the film opens with his book launching of a work on Tibet and Buddhism. Nazis enter the picture and the normal-looking Karl turns out to be a psychopath. He systematically kills off his own family without remorse to serve an ideology. He formed his own reasoning that he was not killing, but relieving people from their suffering. I didn't like how he twisted the Buddhist idea of reincarnation and I feel that the movie might give a wrong impression of Buddhism.

It succeeds as a horror film and a social commentary of that time. The film has a lot of surreal elements. A mysterious woman shows up in random places here and there, a woman who turns out to be dead (she might have been a symbol of death). The  black and white format gave the story a more creepy feeling.

This next film was really enjoyable for me. Ikarie XB-1 is a Czech science fiction film more known with the title Voyage to the End of the Universe. The story is loosely based on Stanislaw Lem's book The Magellanic Clouds. The story centers around the crew of the spaceship Ikarie XB-1 who are tasked to find life in the Alpha Centauri system. The acting and script are solid. The characters are realistic and believable, and each of them has distinct personalities that a viewer can root for.

I like stories of mystery set in space, which show a sense of awe, horror, and despair. One of my favorite books is The Dry Salvages by Caitlin R. Kiernan, which is best summarized as "space mission gone wrong." That's the stories I look for and that's why I like the movies Alien and Prometheus. In this movie, however, there are no alien species or monstrous space creatures. The horror is much more psychological though the film has a generally positive tone.

The crew deals with their own problems in the spaceship and back on Earth. During a party, they are interrupted by a foreign body in space - which turns out to be an ancient abandoned spaceship filled with dead humans. Things get creepy. Then it gets even creepier when they pass by a 'dark star' that emits a radiation that makes them all sleep. One of the crew goes insane, though the story had a pretty happy ending. Overall, it's a great science fiction film that has aged well.

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